It’s true that conflict is an inevitable part of any organisation. But conflict seems to be amplified by the increasingly challenging business environment we find ourselves operating in today: tighter budgets and higher efficiency expectations are paradoxically driving up barriers and unhealthy competitiveness, especially between Maintenance and Operations. Often Maintenance is feeling derailed because operations have come in with other emergencies that they want addressed, or there is frustration from both sides in relation to machinery breakdowns. When these kind of scenarios happen, there is often more finger-pointing happening than problem solving.
Small conflicts and annoyances, if left unaddressed, inevitably develop into bigger tensions that can sometimes lead to major issues that then impact the business results. So the ability to address problems head on is critical for not only business results but for personal satisfaction as well- how you feel about going to work and working with colleagues is not an insignificant thing when you consider how much time we spend at work.
There are real skills involved in addressing these kinds of problems, and people often do their best to avoid dealing with it because they’re worried that it’s going to cause more conflict or they’re going to open themselves up to being challenged. So how do we confront these issues head on?
The Emotional Bank Balance
Just as you have debits and deposits in your bank balance, you also have debits and deposits in your relationships with people. Some of the most significant debits occur when you commit and don’t deliver. When you break someone’s trust in terms of either disloyalty or disrespect in some way.
If you’re going into the red in your emotional bank account you need to bring it back into the black. Ask yourself “How do I build this relationship, how do I re-engage with this person in terms of building respect, trust and confidence”. Also reflecting at what has happened in the past in your relationship with that person can help get things back on track.
Look at Yourself and What You Can Change
We often spend a lot of time looking at the other party in a conflict and what they’re doing wrong. It’s really important to look at yourself in the situation too and ask “what have I done and what do I need to do to help heal the relationship?” You’re wasting your time constantly looking at what the other party has to change, because you can’t control that, but you can control yourself what you can change.
When Conflicts Arise…
Sometimes it’s inevitable that conflict arises, because let’s be honest it’s just human nature. So when conflicts arise, how can you step up to that conflict in a way that is constructive?
The most common mistake people make when dealing with conflict is complaining to the wrong people. They preach to the converted – they talk to their team mates and people who are going to agree with them about how terrible the situation is for them. How the other team is just not pulling their weight or a leader’s not behaving the way that you want them to. Unfortunately all your energy is going into talking to the wrong people. You need to find the person who is going to help you resolve the issue and change the situation you find yourself in, this could be an HR person, a senior team member or someone in your team who is skilled at dealing with conflict.
Next, rather than just launching into a discussion, do some preparatory work in your own mind to think about what the issue is and what outcome you want to achieve. If you’re really revved up, wait until you calm down, do a bit of planning around what you want to say and then actually make a time with the individual or individuals concerned to discuss the issue.
Sometimes simply thinking about the other person and their situation can help a problem get resolved more easily. An issue can get built up in your mind and before you know it, your annoyances have escalated into this huge tension because you haven’t actually stopped and said, “Let me have a conversation with this person.”
Conflict is something that can’t always be avoided but by following these strategies, you’ll be more prepared to deal with it if it comes your way. For more strategies for dealing with conflict and improving cross-functional relationships, join Susan Nicholson at Mainstream Conference.
Susan Nicholson is Partner of Mentors Psychology for Business and has practised as an executive coach and trainer for close to 20 years. Susan has assisted CEO’s, executive teams and middle managers within a range of private and public sectors. This work has included executive coaching and mentoring, team development programs, culture change initiatives and leadership development programs.